A Night in the Subway

As I sat down to dinner in Philly on Saturday night with three of my girlfriends, a bit disheveled from a long night, Christy asks, “What did you do last night??”

“I panhandled in the subway with my sister, made balloon animals and collected money in a hat.”

“NO you didn’t!”

Yes, we did.  But let’s back this story up, because as wacky as we sound there’s actually background to these crazy balloon creatures, and [somewhat] of a method to our madness.  Back in December, the day of NYC’s SantaCon, I somehow found my way to a SantaCon sponsored bar with Meg and my brother.  There were outrageously dressed Christmas themed people, a limbo contest… and a couple of girls with balloon hats.  Since my outfit so badly lacked a Christmas theme, I kinda wanted a balloon hat, so I asked one of the girls where she got it.

“My sister and I made them.”

Dannngggggg!  Impressive.   Chase overheard this, and of course had to throw in his two cents.

“Those sisters are way cooler than you and Carissa.  They make balloon hats.  All you guys do is go to Africa.”

Ohhhhhhh…. challenge, Bro.

So word spread (to the rest of my family), that Carissa and I were slacking on the cool o’ meter, (and the fact that I just typed  “cool o’meter” doesn’t help my case), and I got NOT ONE, but TWO balloon making kits for Christmas.  Equipped with pumps, balloons, and an instructional DVD.  I decided to pack all the supplies to bring to Africa with us that week, and watch the DVD on one of our flights.

Well we never watched the DVD, but the balloons were a hit.  We learned through trial and error, and made some pretty interesting creations.  The first time we made the hats was for our students at the school in Kitoola.  They were all over the age of 13 and the majority of them were boys, but they were awesome sports and rocked the hats.  Halfway through our lesson we noticed a couple of smaller children standing in the doorway of the classroom.  As the lesson progressed, the doorway filled, then eventually spilled INTO the classroom, with children sitting on the floor against the wall, while the rest just quietly peered in from outside.  We continued with our lesson, thinking the kids just wanted to listen in.  But as the class ended and the kids poured in the classroom from outside, we realized they had seen the balloon hats and were patiently waiting because they all wanted one.

We ushered the group outside and got to work.  Not expecting this huge crowd of kids, I was running out of balloons quickly.  I luckily had enough to get SOMETHING on every kid’s head and they were laughing and shrieking like Christmas day.  We were out in a rural village way back behind the sugar cane fields and nestled in a forest, so these children had never seen anything like it.  Balloons were new to them.  They were so adorable and grateful, and THIS day started our crazy balloon making extravaganza.

After we returned from Uganda, we knew our work there was just beginning.  The things we saw, heard and learned confirmed that there’s so much to be done, and we had only scratched the surface.  Where do we start?  Well we are starting by creating a non-profit organization, which we’ve named “Hope Floats” to begin to raise money for the causes we will be working on, including nutrition, and malaria prevention.   We are in the VERY early stages of this, so right now it’s still all about research, and educating ourselves.

Friday night Carissa and I did somewhat of a social experiment, while making sure all of the proceeds are going directly to our new organization’s bank account (new organization’s bank account = big plastic gorilla bank from my grandparents).  We gathered our balloon supplies, dressed in matching outfits, made a couple of drinks to bring with us, and got down into the NYC subway system.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but figured what’s the worst that can happen?  We waste $2.25 each on subway fare, or get arrested.  No biggie.

So we wandered around for a while, not wanting to steal any of the musicians’ thunder, then positioned ourselves far enough away that we were still in the hustle and bustle on the track, but not within earshot of the guy on the bongo.  We put a clown hat on the floor and got to work.  We started out making hats and giving them to the children, but as the night progressed we started getting specific requests.

“Can I get a flower?  I’m going on a date and want to give it to my girlfriend.”

“Sure!”

Did we know how to make flowers?  Absolutely not.  But with confidence in our delivery, the man walked away thinking he was holding a flower.  And we got $4 added to our hat.  Score!

Next, a cute little Asian woman came up to us, and asked us if we do events.

“Yep!”

She gave us her card and told us she’d LOVE to work with us, doing events on the upper west side.  She walked away;  Carissa and I started giggling.  “If you like what you see, we do events!”  We’re standing there surrounded by balloon “blobs” as we call them.  Flowers that didn’t look like flowers, and hats that had no rhyme or reason to them.  We had them looped through our feet and around our arms to keep them from blowing into the tracks every time a train passed by and stirred up the wind.

Our next request:  “Can you make Spiderman??”

“Yep!”

That guy walked away staring at his creation with a bit of confusion.

“Can you make Yogi Berra???”

“Of course!”

Carissa goes, “I’ll make the bat, you make the guy.”

The man looks confused…. I asked, “You want a baseball player?”

“No, a cartoon character.”

“Then you mean Yogi BEAR.”

“Yeah, Yogi Bear…. can you do him?”

“Yep!”

Cranked out another amazing creation, and sent him on his way… I guess he thought it was Yogi Bear?  He threw $5 in the hat.

Most feedback was positive.  Kids were smiling, adults got excited, taking one to wear and acting like a little kid.  But then there was the group of teenagers.  They sat on the benches in front of us, waiting for their train, staring and snickering.  We offered them hats, one took it, the rest declined.  At one point I heard one say, “I hope that’s not their salary,” and the others started snickering again.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut.  So I opened it and said, “No, this is not our salary.  We’re raising money for children in Uganda.”

Instead of any sort of remark, the whole group shut up, and one boy got up and put a dollar in the hat, and sat back down.  A second later, another got up, walked over and threw in some change.  After that, one of the girls made a donation.

I was impressed.

Our first night in the subway was definitely a learning experience.  We learned it’s cold down there in the winter.  We learned once you go down there, there’s no bathroom.   And we learned that watching people walk away happy and giddy with a balloon was just as rewarding as seeing a $5 bill get thrown in our hat.

This is just the beginning.

xoxo Gossip Girl

Hope Floats

Uganda 2013 (Video)

The last five weeks have been nothing short of incredible.  It’s so hard to really capture an experience such as the one I just shared with my sister.   Words, photos, videos… they’re all just bits and pieces of something larger… of indescribable memories, feelings, friendships.  I put together somewhat of a video summary of our past few weeks in Uganda.  It’s definitely no work of art (and the video quality did not transfer as I’d hoped), but just one more piece to the puzzle that will hopefully assist in sharing our experiences, and remembering them a little more vividly down the line.

xoxo

Gossip Girl

Redirecting….

….going to be taking a break from this blog for a few weeks (although I have a pretty good update from my last night in the states…but we’ll save that for a later time)….

for any of my  awesome loyal followers that would like to follow my sister and me through Africa– here is where the updates will be:

HAKUNA MATATA!  

Peace out, loves.

How to Take Down a Christmas Tree (Video)

There are about four days a year in which I don’t enjoy being single.  These days include:

1. The day the air conditioner needs to get put in the window

2. The day the air conditioner needs to get taken out of the window

3. The day the Christmas tree needs to be brought up three flights of stairs

4. The day the Christmas tree needs to be brought DOWN three flights of stairs.

After dragging my tree across the apartment and attempting to get it out the door, only to see an inch of pine needles covering my floors and the hallway outside my door, I decided, that is NOT happening.  A vacuum down three flights of winding stairs is the biggest nightmare I can imagine.  I thought about throwing it out the front window, but I was kindly reminded by a neighbor that if I did so, I’d take out the power lines with it.

I drove all over creation (ok, to Target and CVS) searching for “tree bags” …. I KNOW they exist because I saw a tree on the curb in one… but no one seemed to know what I was talking about, so I settled for 30 gallon garbage bags.  When I got home I realized 30 gallons really isn’t enough gallons to hold a 6-foot tree.  I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to do this, but I knew it had to get done.  So I set up my camera on the table and figured it the hell out.  By myself.  Tonight is the kind of night I re-consider match.com.

 

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The Apocalypse… Otherwise Known as “Sandy”

This hurricane was seriously one of the strangest experiences of my life.  The devastation in the northeast was intense, and people close to me lost many of their belongings, and parts of their homes.  Thankfully, everyone is safe, which is honestly what we all need to remember, while wading through pools of water in our homes and throwing out all of our crap.

The physical devastation is the obvious part of Hurricane Sandy.   The emotional effects were way stranger and less predictable.  Last Wednesday, two days after the storm hit, and after spending a silent, pitch black night in my apartment BY MYSELF, I filled garbage bags full of my freezer foods, loaded them into my car and decided to head back to Babylon to shower at my parents’ house (boilers and hot water heaters drowned in my basement…not to mention I was going stir crazy).  As I attempted to enter the Lincoln Tunnel from all angles, avoiding the flooded streets, only to be redirected, I pulled over to ask a police officer if it was easier to get through the Holland.

“The Holland Tunnel is filled with water, honey… don’t waste your time.”

Crap.  I started driving back to my apartment… only to remember the bags of frozen food in my backseat, which was my strange motivator to not give up hope.  I hate wasting food.  I went to talk to another cop who informed me that if they don’t start letting people through the Lincoln, the mayor of Weehawken was going to be put in handcuffs.  So I took his word for it and decided to wait it out…

As I finally made my way through the tunnel into the city, I felt like I was driving through Narnia into a new world.  PEOPLE, walking around like normal (appearing clean), and filling a Starbucks (which had lights on) was an odd sight.  It had only been a couple of days of an eerily dark, water-logged Hoboken at this point, but it had already become the norm.

My parents were one of the very few on Long Island who never lost power, so I welcomed a warm shower and lights.  What’s funny though, is I ended up subconsciously avoiding electronics anyway, sitting at the dining room table with my sister and a big bottle of wine and playing cards all night.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my ex boyfriend, Tyler and I connected a few weeks ago to get coffee… to extend an olive branch of friendship, so they say (is that what they say?).  We sent each other a couple of texts Wednesday night to check in and make sure the other had survived the hurricane.  Somehow these messages turned into offering each other company in the powerless, boring world of Hoboken since neither of us really had anything to do.

The next afternoon, I went to get him at his parents’ house where he was staying.  After a quick catch-up & photo sharing session with his mama, he took me outside where his new motorcycle was waiting.  He handed me a helmet and popped my motorcycle-riding cherry, so they say (is that what they say?).  It was exhilarating.  We were such badasses, racing down the suburban streets of Darien, CT!   It was freezing, but we took a quick tour down by the beach before dropping off the bike and starting our drive back to Hoboken.

We somehow navigated our way around all the flooded areas and closed bridges and tunnels, making our way through the ghetto of Jersey City.  As we were nearing Hoboken, we decided to stop in a sketchy little shopping center that seemed to have power.  We stocked up on the essentials at the liquor store, then headed next door to a small, dank, moldy smelling bodega-type grocery store to find something to bring home for dinner.  It was nasty in there, but we didn’t have much of a choice.  There were probably about 15 people in the store.  As I’m browsing the aisles, I hear:

“Hey Court….”

I look down one of the aisles.  Oh…crap.  I wave.  I look at Tyler.  His mouth drops open, as he turns to me and goes… “Is that Baldy?!”

Yep…. that was Baldy.  At first I wave and run away.  Why?  I don’t know.  Because I’ve been ignoring his texts, and I’m standing here with my ex-boyfriend.  Then I realized I was being an immature ass, so went over to talk to him.  The poor freakin guy lived in a garden level apartment, which was at this point more of a personal pool.  Might I take this chance to remind you that this is NOT the first time I have randomly run into Baldy in the strangest place ever after ignoring his texts?

After the semi-awkward encounter, we got our food and got outta there.  Tyler, well-versed on my blog entries says, “He is NOT what I expected.  I didn’t think his voice would sound like that.”

I just think… of course.  Why WOULDN’T I run into someone awkward?

The next several days were strange.  Beyond strange.  I’m not sure why Tyler was with me, but neither of us thought we needed a reason.  It was awesome to re-connect and offer each other some comic relief during some crazy circumstances. We hung out with some friends, and of course, “Are you getting back together??” was a common question, where, “No,” was a quick answer.  “Why are you together?” was another question, and “Because there was a hurricane” was the answer.  I’m not sure why I think it makes sense, but it does.  It was the zombie apocalypse.   Anything goes!

We spent our nights lighting candles and using leftover pickle juice to make shots, while playing board games.  We spent the days trying to find food.  Which proved to be quite an adventure.  We drove up and down Washington Street looking for an open restaurant.  We found that the Elysian was open…. with a signs on the windows reading: Limited Menu.  They listed about 5 different choices.  The bar on a normal day has a 19th-century feel to it, but without power, everything was magnified.  It was freezing cold, everyone was dirty and bundled up, and our voices sort of echoed in the large, open, quiet space.  Food was served wrapped in paper, rather than on plates.  It had a feeling of soup kitchen meets mountain lodge, meets old western saloon.  All conversations we overheard had to do with evacuated hospitals, gas shortages and destroyed homes.  It seemed everyone knew each other.  It was a strange feeling, one I absorbed, and won’t soon forget.

After lunch we made our way up the deserted street to City Hall where they were calling for volunteers.  We got our assignments and were on our way.  We were sent to one location to pick up MRE’s from the National Guard.  They had boxes and boxes stacked on the sidewalk.  They handed us the amount of meals we requested, and we brought them a few blocks over to a large low-income housing building.  As soon as we walked in we realized why these people needed help.  Many were elderly, and all the elevators were out.  The hallways were PITCH BLACK… “Eerie” is an understatement.  We didn’t have flashlights so I began by taking pictures every 3 steps using the flash to see a few feet in front of us.  Luckily, after several minutes of barely missing walls with my face, we realized the video feature on the phone keeps the flash on consistently.  After climbing six flights of stairs,  my fatass whining most of the way, we finally found Theresa… a poor, elderly, diabetic woman living by herself.  Well, not exactly by herself.  As she opens the door a crack, she immediately informs us,

“I have three cats.  I’m not allowed to have three cats.  Please don’t tell on me!”

We laughed… and told her not to worry… we are fellow cat lovers.  Oh, Theresa.

What added to the eerie feel of the apocalypse was the lack of communication.  Cell towers were down so I relied on my laptop to touch base with friends and family.  Somehow the general wifi in the area worked, so I was able to log into my Optimum account.  It was a ticking time game though, because I only had so much laptop power… and didn’t know when or where I’d be able to recharge.

“People helping people” became our tagline, but as much as we laughed when we said it, it actually rang true.  Walking down the street, you’d witness the outpouring of support, people cooking hotdogs and giving them out, others who had generators, bringing extension cords outside so strangers could charge their phones…  Posts on Facebook by random Hoboken residents, inviting anyone without power to use showers and outlets and get a hot meal.   Sometimes it takes a disaster to take a minute to appreciate humanity.  Or maybe it’s the disaster that causes people to stop acting like self-absorbed assholes for two minutes to help a neighbor.  Either way….

So here I sit… more than a week after Sandy…. on my couch in my winter coat and snowboarding socks with a nose about as cold as an icicle and probably a family of rats living in my hair. But grateful. We are far from finished assessing the damage caused by Sandy, but there’s’ something humbling about going through all of this..  Something romantic about sitting around a table on a Saturday night with three of your close friends, candles surrounding you, and just board games and conversation to keep you occupied…  Something touching about the willingness of friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers to offer up water, clean-up assistance, outlets, showers, food, and even just company.   I continue to feel for all of the families who lost way more than I did, but hope everyone can at least see a slight glimmer of hope, somewhere in this huge mess.

This has truly been a week I won’t forget.

Video:  Free gasoline line in Hoboken:  5 gallon maximum.

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Sandy Update…

Disclaimer:  This post was started Monday morning and was completed Tuesday.  That should clear up any confusion

Stiirrrrr crazy!!!!

Maybe I’ll just blog all day.  Jkjkjkjkjkjk.  I slept on my couch last night.  If I told you the reason you’d think I’m crazy.  Actually, you probably already think I’m crazy.  I slept on the couch, because that’s where the flashlight and the lantern were.  Yes.  That’s why.  I felt like it was a more appropriate hurricane sleeping arrangement.

I woke up this morning with a stiff neck (holy crap, I’m seriously getting old), and turned on the TV to watch the newscasters continue to scare the poo out of me.  I got hungry and went to the fridge to find the spaghetti I made last night.  Ugh.  No.  As Chris Christie’s voice on the TV in the background threatened residents of NJ against leaving their homes, I gathered my things and headed to A&P.

T-Diddy called me as I was walking into the grocery store.

“Did you go to A&P yet?”

“Yes, I just got here.  But… I don’t know what I’m supposed to be buying.”

“Oh… hmmm….” (she’s with my aunt)  “Di, what should she be buying?”

I hear Aunt Diane in the background:  “Beer….  wine….”

“I already have plenty of alcohol… I mean food-wise.”

T-Diddy thinks for a while…. then starts rattling off a list.  I ignored most of the list and just basically  made sure I had enough cheese, celery and hummus to last me a couple of days.  And threw in a rotisserie chicken.

Remember my referral from my friend’s ex-boyfriend?  The one I went out with the night before my birthday?  We’ll call him JR for anonymity-sake. He texted me and asked if we were having a hurricane party.  I obviously said yes, because we all know I can only entertain myself for so long.

He came over soaking wet with his laptop to “work from home,” and a 30 pack.  My downstairs neighbors, Sean and Kim let him in, because they were chilling on the front steps watching the storm.  Got a text from Sean:

So we started out watching movies.  Binge watching TV… savoring every moment as we heard of our friends all losing power one by one.  We actually watched TV for so long, we willingly turned it off to start playing games around 9pm.  Sitting at my dining room table, jamming to country music (not my choice), we sipped wine and played a board game.  All of the sudden– total darkness.  I screamed.  Okay, it’s really not that scary, and I was bracing for it, but I screamed anyway.  Flashlight on.  About 30 seconds later all the lights came back on.  We cheered.  Ten minutes later, it happened again… blackness… I screamed.   A minute later, lights came back on…. we cheered… and high-fived.  Geez, how dramatic.  Our luck only took us so long until the power was out for good.  Got the candles out and went back to work on the board game.

After a while, it got old.  So we made up a new game.  Power hour.  Except we needed beer for this game…which was in the fridge.  And hurricane advisors said DO NOT OPEN THE FRIDGE…. butttt…. we needed the beer!  We got the flashlight, made it a team effort, counted to three while I opened the door, screaming “GO! GO! GO!,” and JR swiped the 30 pack right out of there in a second flat.

Now how does power hour go, without power, you ask?  Oh I’ll tell you.  Each person takes turns SINGING a song for a minute.  Since I’m not very good with lyrics, the minute was about 10 seconds, and the beer went quicker than during a normal person power hour.

So here I sit…. a day after beginning this post.  Alive and well, although the basement is apparently under several feet of water (goodbye beloved chair and ottoman).  My cell is barely working, and there’s a strict curfew in effect banning us from leaving our homes.  Still a bit worried to hear how my family fared this hurricane, and praying everyone is okay!

Should be conserving energy on my MiFi connection, but of course a blog post was essential.  I should probably power down for a bit.  Hope everyone is safe…. over and out.  xo

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